Hexplore is a roleplaying adventure questing game where you are taking on an evil entity who is trying to destroy the realm. There are currently two editions available, the original Valley of the Dead King and the second, The Forests of Adrimon. These games are similar in concept and mechanics but have different themes and storyline weaved throughout the game. They also have different sets of heroes with which you will play. A third game in the series, Sands of Shurax, kickstarted this year, and battles against the huge Ravager creature in a desert theme.
Adventure gaming with a character who develops and improves during a game is a favourite way for me to solo play board games, and Runebound 3rd edition has been the best example of this for a number of years. Recently, Too Many Bones has added its weight to the genre although this is much more a combat game than a world map exploration, and Hexplore was an intriguing game i looked at a year or so ago but did not purchase, however as I love forest themed adventures in particular, it ultimately encouraged me to try this game with the Forests of Adrimon set.
The game centres around your hero where you try to gather relic fragments, creating powerful equipment that may help destroy Adrimon the sorceress who is enslaving the forest dwellers. Players will be able to gain favours from the forest spirits, sneak into the cities, move though the fey-realm and interact with the Dryad, a powerful ally, and battle tough foes or release them from the Magi’s control to become allies. It is very roleplay centric in that you have basic skills to move, search for treasure and survive in the forests, alongside combat abilities of attack and defence and two clever mastery skills which is where the characters become unique to their role. The main part of the game involves you upgrading your skills board using a mark and wipe process, and i found it really works well.
This game feels a little more freeform than Runebound, you can explore where you want, although both maps have quest destinations to visit where you know you will face a challenge to progress your story and collect fragments. The main enemy, either the Dead King or Admiron has its own count down progression which encourages you to keep moving and developing before the eventual showdown happens, and as you become stronger, progressively harder boss monsters will be defeatable. The Dead King moves around the board destroying cities and chasing you down, whereas Admiron is a more distant foe who waits for the right time to draw you in.
The game is initially quite hard to get to grips with, and playthrough videos were invaluable as there seems a lot to learn before it starts to become second nature, and you will need to look up conditions, skills and new equipment regularly. However there are really helpful component boards that provide you with key notes for the round order, or what actions to do at certain locations such as cities and waypoints, and once you get it, then the game actions become quite easy to recall. As a solo or two player, i enjoyed the journey of discovery, and as you play you do progress a character storyline, there is a story book too which adds theme and background to certain events and enemies. The full game is a long one, we are closer to Mage Knight length here to get near the final showdown, however the enjoyment really is in the journey, and i found great fun in setting myself a shorter objective for instance to free Hathowyr the great owl or defeat Tharanos the rotting treant, and still have an engaging game to play, just reduce the time countdown to a more meaningful number. The real joy of the game is the adventure story you are telling yourself, and the writing on event cards you reveal really help to tell it.
I have to say the artwork and components are excellent, and i loved all the boss monsters with their unique abilities. The wipe-able hero boards are nice to use and become a quite addictive element as you chase your next stat upgrade through the game encounters, and the additional extra storybook which adds background theme is a superb touch. I am really enjoying this game, and whilst i you need some patience and time to play it, if you like the idea of a world to explore and an adventure of your own to create, then this is a game that whilst similar to others in concept, such as Runebound and Mage Knight, it also seems unlike anything else i have tried outside of a pure rpg with just a set of books. Runebound is a tighter and shorter game with token throwing combat, whereas Mage Knight is card hand based where combat remains by far the most difficult to remember how to play. Hexplore is mainly dice rolling, but the action skills are excellent and is in the middle for complexity.
Historically i collected dungeon crawl games as my main goal, and these remain so good for campaigns or group play, but i am now concluding that the outdoor adventure style are becoming so good at what they provide for the solo or two player games, they are fast overtaking many dungeon games as my favourites to own.